Christ Pantokrator

Chilandari (Athos), 13th-century Byzantine icon

Our Lord of Flaked Paint freckling
sallow skin and emerald robes,

Our Lord of Mudpuddle Eyes
that look away in weary irritation,

no one can touch your loneliness,
God cut off from God.

You who flamed a world into being
with only words, stood

in the midst of bickering men,
fig trees dying, and sparrows

falling to the ground.
Were there days when heat and dust,

the smell of stale crowds
pushing you from place to place,

asking for one more resurrection,
food for thousands

or withered hands healed,
made you want to slash the canvas,

fly back to heaven and start fresh
on some new world far away?

Days where your head ached
from sun on sand and water,

where your throat scraped raw
from shouting Blessed are . . . to men

who would go home, forget, and return
to nail you to a piece of wood?

No one understood your stories,
could grasp that you would trade

legions of angels
for nine ungrateful lepers,

the friend who turned you in,
and never enough sleep.

Our Lord of Omnipotent Frustration
with your halo like a setting sun,

your hand is raised as if to bless me,
though I can’t imagine why.

Borgund Stave Church, midsummer

Listen, you cannot hear the small bells
rung for mass, or smell the pungent
incense. No one is selling tickets at this hour;
nothing is open here at the earth’s edge
where sheep block the road, and torrents
pour from the stony mountain. Above
the shrouded dead, tar-soaked timbers
with their pitched roofs sky-dive bravely
toward the stratosphere. Jet-lagged,
we wake to a world spilled open
into white and cloudless sky.

Flowers, yellow, purple, white, the one
called “stepmother,” crouch like pansies
underneath the gallery floor. All day
we have been driving near the sound of water,
the cry of unfamiliar birds. Now we are tired.
Your foot, then mine, tests the sagging steps
for rot; your eye, then mine, pries through
the worn keyhole. Both of us think
we will never be back. Your hand, then mine,
refrains from touching the carved lintel
with its snakes and dragons out of fear
it might dissolve, and like so many things,
our faces flushed, our bodies warm from walking,
just disappear into thin air.


                —after Czeslaw Milosz

A morning so still.
Rain ended while I slept.
Light in the east awakened me.
A Carolina wren began his “Teakettle” song.
By my study window I drank tea, and read.
The first Beatitude spoke to me,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit” being everything
                                               I need to know.
There was nothing on earth I could not let go.
Solitude held and sustained me,
Emptiness a companion I walk beside.
Looking out, I see the clearing sky.

Carbon footprint

Mine is reasonably small
having always lived low,
turned off lights and faucets,
eschewed useless stuff,
reused, recycled.
I do not aspire to shrink it,
but, like the first people
in these green hills,

I want to leave
no footprint at all,
to move through life
in gentle, charitable silence
not disturbing fragile things,
cosmic balances
or the universal pulse
so that, when my candle
sputters into darkness,
the tiniest leaf is unmoved
by the wisp of its rising smoke.

What isn't there

                                    —September 2001

The painter in overalls, he’s somewhere uptown,
his blue-spattered hands tensed on a grating.
Imagine him climbing the latticed scaffolding.

No children at the crossing for the library,
whose two dark lions drowse, even now,
imperturbable. No low light along an alleyway,

the pawn shops, moments laced with faces
in windows, in cars. The sidewalk murmurs
under our feet, worries and flutters at curbs,

until, unthought, it leaves us empty, down and
rooted, within ourselves. Insistent still: what was
but isn’t there, what fills this space with space.